Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Tag

What Mindfulness Is Not!


Mindfulness is frequently misconceived. Exactly this type of misconceptions pilot individuals to abandon practice too early. Such misconceptions foil reaping of the full benefits of true mindfulness. Mindfulness is not bringing to an end of thinking. It is becoming aware of thoughts as they rise, and then bringing the mind back to the intended object of awareness, normally the breath. To suppose the mind to not think is nonsensical. The brain is designed to think. We think the majority of our waking life. It is irrational to anticipate the brain to shut off its thinking approach. When we meditate, we realize we are not in control.

Mindfulness is not invulnerable to fast-everything culture. There are teachers, and books that declare the thought that just a few minutes of mindfulness from time to time is sufficient. That regrettably is not the case. It is right that a slight bit of mindfulness is better than none. Mindfulness is like any other skill. Practice a little, and you will make little progress. Practice a lot, and you will gain a lot. A good criterion for mindfulness practice is 30 minutes of strict practice every day, first thing in the morning, as one can reap the benefit of early morning practice during the whole day.

Guided imagery, a gentle but powerful technique that focuses and directs the imagination has its own set of healing properties. It is not mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is refining awareness of the present moment, not being taken away somewhere else. Remember to stay where you are. With that statement, comes the immediate implication that meditation is not a good thing and should be dumped. This idea comes from the false postulation that mindfulness is about feeling good. Mindfulness often leads to feeling more peaceful and content within oneself, but it is also not unusual to feel physical and emotional pains that one was not aware of before. Meditation is about being mindful of what is, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant.

Mindfulness is not a passive activity. Mindfulness in daily life, circumscribe both moment-to-moment awareness and skillful interventions based on what is observed. If I find my thoughts going in a direction, which I know is harmful to myself or others, I am to stop those thoughts and substitute them with other more flexible thoughts. This comes with practice, and is an important aspect of mindfulness. Commonly used cognitive therapy techniques for depression and anxiety, are a version of such mindfulness practice.

To get lost into the flow of a pleasurable or creative activity is not mindfulness. It does entail the ability to concentrate. When we do a task for hours, we get so absorbed into what we are doing, that we lose track of time. But one could not remember much of what had happened during all those hours. When one meditates, the opposite happens. The emphasis is on putting full mind on the present moment and being aware. Mindfulness is comprised of insight; the ability to learn about self in relationship to the present moment experience.


Posted October 15, 2013 by dranilj1 in Mind and Heart

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Listen to Silence & Learn from Silence

To most of us, silence only comes when we close our eyes and turn in for the night. Even when we are listening, our minds churn an inner dialogue; like, we are deciding what we will say next, contemplating the way the speaker’s mouth is moving, thinking about what is for lunch. A healthy fix of silence, whether it is a week-long retreat or a few, simple moments focusing on the breath could do miracles.

In many eastern traditions, observing silence is an integral practice. Not speaking and turning inward is thought to bring peace, clarity and spiritual purity. In the west, even during secular events, moments of silence is practiced to respect and reflect. In our hyper-connected, buzzing world where there is a constant soundtrack to our lives; be it a whizzing car, the bark of a dog or the low hum of a computer at work, you’ll have to seek silence deliberately in order to reap its benefits. Your relationship with quiet and the act of restoring could improve your skills when it comes to work, friendships and happiness.

Creative types swear by silence. It is a stark reminder of the difference between what is worth saying and what isn’t. It is the perfect editor for the creative soul. Creativity is a side effect of meditation. In silence, we gain perspective on what matters, and can more comfortably do away with the non-essentials. When you spend time just being present and observing your breath, thoughts, feelings, and moment-to-moment experience, we start to realize how trivial most of our daily worries really are. In the midst of the daily grind, one can let go of the small stuff, and keep the big picture in view.

Silence is therapeutic. We need silence for sanity. The level of noise that we live with really closes us down. We have very little peace and quiet. Silence is not just no noise; silence is peace and quiet and peace and quiet is beautiful. When we find peace and quiet, we think clearly, feel clearly and the body rejuvenates itself. We don’t know what to do with the free time that quiet offers. Our lives are busy and structured. The healing process needs a simple figuring out of how we want to spend our afternoon without distraction to fall back on.

Silence is a catalyst for focus. We have all felt the need for library-quiet when struggling to concentrate, but being in quiet, takes practice. Being quiet can make one thoughtful. In silence, we can hear our soul speak. Without the surface noise, the insignificant chatter will default to mute. It is often the quiet ones who out-produce everyone else. Silence can make one a better listener. We are losing our listening skill. There is plenty to be distracted by, and as a result our skill to really pay attention is weak. Listening is access to understanding. Just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate so that you can hear the quiet again. If you can’t get absolute silence, then go for quiet and that is absolutely fine.

Listening is one of the most difficult skills on this planet. It is very hard to stop mind from wandering. There are lots of reasons why it is so hard for us to be silent. We can always tell when someone is not giving you their complete attention. Practicing quiet, whether through retreat, meditation or just a few minutes unplugged, can prepare you as a professional and a friend to really hear.


No Supernatural Power Needed



So, will twenty minutes of sitting in a darkened room staring at a candle set you right with the universe and fix your life? Of course not! Meditation is a means of developing concentration, mindfulness and self observation. These skills allow you to control the thing that is making you miserable; your uncontrolled stream of consciousness, which is say, your inner talking. Just because meditation developed in the East in what Westerners would call a religion doesn’t make it supernatural or magical. Eastern philosophies are active hands on practices designed not to stimulate the mind but to control it.

Once you learn to recognize your inner talking and refuse to identify with it, you start to organize it. Your thinking causes your fear, depression and attachment. These things cause you to suffer needlessly. Gaining inner calm empowers you to deal whatever life throws at you. No longer paralyzed by fear and depression, you can throw yourself into solving problems one by one. If you want a magic solution, throw some pennies in a well. If you want hands on tried and true techniques then meditation, concentration, mindfulness and self observation are for you.


It Is Itself Now


Reading about non-dual, mystical approach to spirituality you will find many obvious and deep resonances not only with the Buddha’s teachings but with the depth teachings of all the great systems of awakening and non-duality. You appreciate deeply of Buddha Dharma and also investigate into emptiness, into the very practical and immediate application of emptiness in meditation and in opening up the mind and heart

If love leads one to the point of the extinction of personality in the fire of truth, awareness can lead him to the point of seeing that ego does not really exist, and hence achieve the same goal of selflessness. Love melts the lover into the ocean of truth; there remain no traces of an “I”. Awareness, on the other hand, cuts through the illusion of a separate identity. It exposes the lie of ego: that it exists as a reality. Love melts ego away, while awareness is like turning on the light and seeing that there is nobody there. The outcome is the same in both cases, but the flavor of the path is different. One is more emotional, the other more insightful. The vocabularies of the two paths differ as a result. The path of love seeks union with the Beloved, while the path of awareness seeks the seeing of naked Reality. Just as prayer is the central practice in the path of love, meditation is the central practice in the path of awareness.

Meditation is a very fine art. Meditation is the center and the heart of all Buddhist schools. Without meditation there is really no Buddhism. Buddhism has more of a mental flavor than most other religions. It deals with the mind. Buddhism discusses mind. Sufis speak more of the Heart. This does not mean that the Buddhist Mind and the Sufi Heart are two different things. When Buddhists say Mind they don’t mean what we usually understand to be mind. When the Sufis mention the Heart they don’t mean what we call heart. The flavors of the two approaches are different because for the lower levels of spiritual experience there is a distinction between mind and heart.

The practicing of just bare attention, being mindful of my experience is the main meditation practice that I have done for years. This meditation is not an easy practice by any means, although it sounds so. Just attending to whatever I experience puts me right away in touch with the first noble truth of Buddhism, the truth of suffering. Almost all this time there is suffering in my experience, whether in me or in the world around me. This suffering and pain is a prime cause for the lowering of awareness in each of us. We just want to avoid pain at any cost, and being asleep and unaware is the most effective means. But we cannot avoid pain without lowering our awareness. So cultivating awareness brings me face to face with suffering, mine and everybody else’s.

But suffering and pain are not the only difficulties in the practice of meditation. Beyond all the tricks and defenses of ego, lie levels of experience and consciousness that are so subtle and so intangible that the meditator can be stuck for years without even knowing it. An accomplished and experienced meditation teacher is necessary, for this is a person who knows the terrain from experience and can guide the person who has never been to such places.

Insight meditation develops and cultivates insight. At the beginning insight is psychological in nature. I see my ego patterns, my ways of handling my experience, my ways of avoiding reality, my conflicts, my emotional problems, and so on. So it is awareness of my personality or my ego. This is natural for this is what is there at the beginning.

However, awareness does not stop here. In fact, awareness does not need an object. It can be just pure awareness. It can be only aware of itself. So after a while, sometimes a very long while, the content of experience starts to slow and quiet down. With consistent practice thoughts calm down, emotions quiet down, and we become very calm, very still, very peaceful.

The level of experience shifts now that there is enough stillness for us to see more clearly. We become aware of this observer in us who is paying attention. We cannot pay attention without somebody paying attention to something. First I think this is ordinary and okay. I learned, however, that this observer is not really needed. The need for an observer is the need for ego to have a center, to make itself into a center of experience. So the observer is really none other than ego, or part of ego.

I start seeing that awareness cannot develop more if it is centered. A center of awareness, an observer, always limits awareness, for it is always aware through a certain perspective, a certain point of view, from a certain direction. This somehow has a cramping effect on me. I become tense instead of relaxed. An observer means there is tension in my awareness, it’s not open and free. Now I turn my awareness backward and look at the observer. It jumps around, and awareness keeps following it. But awareness never finds any substantial reality to this observer. Regardless of how much I look there is really no observer. Sometimes it feels that it is only a thought, or an idea, or a place in my body, or a belief in its existence, but never a consistent identity. Not finding this observer makes it less real. The center of awareness relaxes its tense grip on awareness. The ego-center or the observer in this case, relaxes, spreads thinner, and slowly dissolves into the stillness. There is no more need for an observer.

Only stillness is left fresh, clear, crisp and empty. Thoughts pass through it. Emotions pass through it. Experiences pass through it. But the stillness stays immaculate, just as the clear sky stays untouched as the clouds pass through it. The winds blow. The rivers flow. The fires gnaw, but stillness is still, still.

There is a feeling of lightness, of joy, of freedom. There is a sense of naturalness with a crystal kind of clarity, just as snow-covered mountains feel natural and clear. Awareness is no longer tense. It loses its attachment and active bent. It becomes more passive, like a receptacle. Everything comes to it. This is an important transition; for usually we exert a lot of effort to pay attention, and letting go and just being feels scary. I always thought before that I would miss seeing something if I did not actively look. But I saw that I only created strain this way, and also this active awareness is really more paranoia than anything else. When I let go, and trust that awareness is naturally there and I don’t have to make an effort, awareness becomes bigger, brighter, and easier. It’s like seeing everything, being aware of everything at the same time, effortlessly. It’s like a panoramic view, but not from above, nor from any direction. It’s like awareness is everywhere, and nothing is missed or overlooked. There is no concern or fear of missing something.

All kinds of experiences happen in many new regions and spaces of the mind. Deep spaces, empty spaces, spacious spaces, soft spaces, dark spaces, light spaces, and joyous spaces happen in mind. The space itself, like stillness, becomes the object of awareness, and awareness goes deeper and deeper into it. Sometimes there is an uninterrupted space of stillness, or openness, without thoughts or feelings or any kind of content. It’s like a totally empty sky. Yet, slowly I discover that there is something like an atmosphere when the experience is happening. This atmosphere somehow colors the experience, gives it a certain flavor, which is reminiscent of myself. This insight cuts through the mental atmosphere and more openness manifests.

Awareness becomes sharper, brighter. There is a feeling of less crowdedness, as if the atmosphere got thinner and lighter. I learn that such mental atmospheres are the action of concepts. I view reality through certain concepts. That’s what I have been doing all my life, and so has everybody else. We always experience reality through the filter of our concepts of reality. Even when thoughts, feelings, and sensations subside there remains the conceptual atmosphere through which I look at reality. It’s like instead of reflecting reality in a clear mirror; I do so using a colored mirror; so I believe that reality has that color instead of seeing that it is my mirror that is colored.

At superficial levels the concepts are in words and thought. Awareness can see through these easily. However, on subtler levels there are mental concepts without even thoughts. They are beliefs about reality taken as aspects of reality, so they become imperceptible. They are very subtle for they are all-pervading. It’s like being in a colored atmosphere that colors everything in it with the same color, including me. So I naturally believe that this color is an aspect of reality. There is no way to discriminate this color, this concept, this filter. The result is that reality is not seen directly, perception is still veiled. Reality is still not totally naked.

Here intuitive awareness starts to develop. It is like a light that pierces through these concepts. Intuitive awareness is sometimes called discriminating wisdom, for it has the capacity to discriminate those subtle concepts that veil what is. Development of intuitive awareness is really the aim of being mindful of my experience. Here, real insight starts to mature. It is no longer insight into the dynamics of the personality. It is insight into the nature of reality and the nature of consciousness. Gradually, intuitive awareness cuts through these concepts, like the sword cutting through the veils, revealing reality as it is—naked existence. No coloration, no filtering. It is direct perception. It is the experience of emptiness, the void.

Void does not mean empty of content like an empty container. It is just what is without the conceptual framework on top of it. It is direct perception without the naming or labeling of reality. It is reality without the presence of ego, without the presence of a center for experience. Experience is totally open. Experience does not have a center. Experience does not have a boundary. Everything is the same as before except that it is without my prejudices or beliefs. It is itself now.


 

PRACTISE AND CREATIVITY CAN OPEN LOVING ATTENTION

I do formal loving attention every day, as well as loving attention in the moment. It feels good to set aside a special time to give loving attention with so many others. I feel there is really good vibe in my work today, similar to what one often feels in meditating or praying with a group of people or Sat Sangha.

While there are many formal forms for the steps in loving attention in various traditions, in general there is a basic expanding progression of attention. First giving loving attention to oneself, then a close or dear friend, then a neutral person; someone we know but don’t really have a relationship with, and then, the difficult person, and then all of these equally, and then in expanding spheres of loving kindness, one eventually embraces all beings everywhere and finally, the entire universe.

If you find it hard to give loving attention to yourself, as many of us seem to, then start with loving attention for a beloved pet, or plant, or even a place that evokes warm and loving feeling in you. This is a skillful means of getting around stuck places, like the inability to love oneself. To light a fire, start with kindling someone or something you love.

In general, when doing loving attention, follow the steps of expanding love, but sometimes my loving attention is very free form, like a good jazz improvisation, and I listen to what is calling to me from the world and to what my heart seeks to address. This helps give loving attention and well-wishes a specific focus. But after some time, you may feel a shift, and your heart might be drawn to new affirmations and intentions. For example, while contemplating “May All Beings Be Free from Suffering,” I found new loving attention focal points arising in my mind. Trusting my heart, I stayed with each until I felt I had established a clear sense of loving presence and embrace of those involved. Here is what arose for my todays loving attention like let those struggling to be born, be born and live. May those struggling to give birth, give birth safely and without pain. Let those in danger, find safety and see how to find safety. May those struggling with death, be free of fear and feel loved. Let those struggling with death, let go of life and death, and find refuge in presence and being.

Many more specific focal points come to mind as we open up our heart, and there is often a tremendous sense of flow and feeling directed to where the loving attention is needed, but sometimes, there is clearly a need to stop and really zero in on some place of resistance, or pain, or sorrow, or hurt. Often, when recalling some suffering in the world, I would be led back to giving loving attention to suffering in myself and vice versa, often working through pain and stuck places in my own heart. I naturally move outward to share that loving attention clarity and open up my heart to those in the world who might be having similar struggles.

The truth is we can’t really separate our own happiness and well-being from that of others. To be human is to live in relationship. As my teacher likes to say, we have inter-being and we inter-are with all things and all things with us, for even as we are individual and unique, we are also individual and unique in relationship to what is not our self. Indeed, we are literally made up of not self elements, for that is the very nature of what the Buddha called dependent origination or co-origination. In my own practice, I have found that loving attention practice is every bit as skillful a means as meditation in helping to break down the painful barriers between self and other.

So, with loving attention, as with all of the multifarious facets of the Buddha Dharma, the big idea is to practice, to just do it, and regularly. Like a good musician, to improve, we will do a lot of formal hard work—what the great jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis calls “going to the shed and “chopping wood.” There’s just no way around it! On the other hand, in the practice of loving attention, if you start with the formal sequence, be open to some improvisation. Listen carefully to your heart and pay attention to where there is contraction and tightness, and where there is opening up and spaciousness.

Listen also to where your heart or personal, or family, or world events may be calling you to give loving attention. You may want to go there or you may not! Sometimes, the monkey-mind wants to flit from object to object, with no depth, no feeling, no real heart. Giving loving attention is not a filibuster! It’s not positive thinking or is it rote mindless repetition of “may you be happy” or any other phrase or mantra. Loving attention is in fact, meditation, wherein the “object” of meditation is not one’s breath, or other anchor, but the loving attention itself—the feeling of well-being and love being given to and embracing another.

The loving attention embracing its object is itself the focus of attention, and when our mind drifts off, as it surely will, countless times—no problems!—our mindfulness will eventually note that and help us bring our focus of attention back to our object of loving attention. When you bring it back, bring it back with a smile to yourself, as the Buddhist teacher Bhante Vimalaramsi always says. Smile and relax, letting go of any tightness or tension that may have arisen when we lost our attention

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